Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Archive for the category “Cancer”

A PPE Nightmare, No Not What You Think

We are hearing enough daily reports about the shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) that you do not need me to remind you.  Instead, I want to give you a non-Corona virus situation to help understand just how important PPE really is.  What is scary, just this morning, it was revealed that the Center For Disease Control (CDC) last week created a crisis strategy for PPE.  In other words, the CDC is modifying its already minimized requirements for PPE, and in a crisis like we have now, even lowering those standards.  I have not read these changes in great detail yet, so I will not overstep my boundary of this post.  Instead, like I said, I have a story to tell you about PPE.  And hopefully after, you will understand in simpler terms, just what our health care workers are up against, and why this is important to them.

First, to understand, personal protective equipment, is just that, personal (for you), protective equipment (worn to protect you and possibly others).

I worked in medical research for a number of years.  Quite rewarding actually to have an avenue to give back to what saved my life.  Working in medical research, not just wearing PPE was important, but the proper levels of PPE.  And there are different levels depending on how serious a pathogen (germ, bacteria, virus, bad stuff) you were dealing with.

Your dentist wears PPE, usually a mask, and definitely gloves.  Most doctors wear gloves to examine patients.  Scientists and researchers are no different.  The thing about PPE, it is supposed to be once and done.  You wear PPE to prevent you from being exposed, or exposing anyone else.  When you are done with it, you throw it away.  You do not reuse it.  That is why most PPE comes individually wrapped.  It is not meant to be used over and over.  But what happens when it does get used again, and again, and again, and again?  Here is that story.

I had a co-worker, who shall remain nameless, who did just that.  He had several work areas to maintain.  Of course, that would mean that he had to wear a different set of PPE in each area.  Well, “gowning up” or putting on PPE takes time (booties, gown, mask, head bonnet, two pair of gloves, face shield if necessary), as does “ungowning.”  That co-worker had no issue, wearing the same PPE from area to area, and as long as he did not get caught, no harm, no foul.  And by getting caught, I mean, not just by management, but by cross-contaminating from one area to the next.  This alone is disturbing enough.  But it gets worse, much worse.  His laziness not only covered the various work areas, but extended for his entire work week.  That is right, he wore the same equipment to every area he entered, but wore it all week.  You might want to put down anything you might be snacking on or drinking for the next paragraph.

Some of us, including me, would discover what our co-worker was doing.  For the average co-worker who did not give a shit, some of us did, realizing the potential for compromising any studies.  Remember, research, looking for cures, looking for vaccines, these things all require acting appropriately.

Upon inspection, and removal of this PPE that had been discovered, was the evidence that he was doing just as I have written.  With the exception of his gloves, he had reused everything, all week, in every area.  There was “soiled” evidence on everything.  On one particular piece of PPE, was enough to make me vomit, his mask.  The one piece that would go against his lips, cover his nose was filthy, actually crusted with residue from the environment.

Forget the person risk to himself, he was carrying all of this from area to area, putting every study at risk.

That is why, when I hear today, that we have health care workers and responders pleading for PPE, being forced to wear the same PPE for days, even work without, now having the CDC “allowing” reuse of certain PPE with one of the most contagious viruses we have seen in a long time, if ever, I just want to hang my head in despair.  But I cannot.  Because I have so many friends that work in health care, and I know that they are speaking up for what they need.  And they are risking their own lives, and the lives of their loved ones at home, compromised from reusing PPE.

This is a disgrace.  This PPE shortage is something that a 3rd world country experiences.  But in times of companies operating under the guise of Six Sigma, simply put, a method to learn to do more with less, to increase profit margins.  And that means, many, if not most, have been caught with lower inventories of PPE.  Manufacturers probably cut back manufacturing due to lower demand.  And in the firestorm of an emergency like Corona Virus, here we are cut flatfooted, scrambling to find resources, rush production, and in some case, average citizens trying to do their part, making home-made PPE just so that our health care workers can have some sort of “protection.”

Our healthcare workers deserve better.  We deserve better.  All of our lives depend on it.

15 Days, Limits Of Group Size – It Is All About Perspective

This meme came across my feed today.  It could not be more appropriate.  Honestly, I had been hoping to follow up my 30th Anniversary post with stories of the adventures of my next ten and twenty years.  Instead, my last several posts have all been geared to help everyone understand the big picture, and why it needs to matter to everyone.

This afternoon, President Trump announced an extreme measure meant to help contain the spread of the Corona virus.  The result from this press conference is simply, politics needs to be thrown out the window dealing with this crisis.  If you were anti-Trump, you heard a press conference that appears to have nearly everyone on the same page, hopefully giving confidence that were will progress forward.  If you are pro-Trump, you should stop hearing (at least for the time being) attacks on the efforts, but rather, from the President himself, this is serious, and it is not going away any time soon.  Both sides should now be on the same page, going for the same goal.  Slow the progression, buy the time needed so that the medical system does not get overwhelmed.  More importantly, casualties kept to a minimum.

One of the hardest things for most people to accept, is being told their life needs to be put on hold, at least temporarily.  No secret, I am a cancer survivor, and I think I can speak for anyone who has ever had to deal with a serious health issue, when I say, “hold my beer.”

15 days.  We, as a country, are being asked to limit our interactions to groups less than ten people.  In some places, businesses are either being recommended or required to close to assist with this effort.  Chances are, if you are a healthy individual, the news of being told to restrict your social activity probably resulted in the same result that a teenager would give being told they could not go to the movies or mall with their friends under normal circumstances.  Que the eye roll and thunder as the pupils hit the back of the head, and the screams of exasperation at the perceived “end of days”.

I just heard a great analogy, that pushing to find out how much longer we are going to have to deal with this, is like asking a fireman how soon we will be able to move back into the house, as they are still putting out fire.

Perspective.  Also known as “keepin’ it real.”

My chemotherapy lasted 8 months, 240 days.  No hair.  Sick as shit.  Fatigued to no end.  No one wanting to hang out with someone looking like a freak.

My radiation therapy went 30 days.  My skin burning worse than any sunburn imaginable, resulting in a peeling that you could only imagine being equaled by a Hollywood makeup artist.

Recovery from open heart surgery, six months, 180 days.  With one full week in the hospital, 2 days in the ICU, I lost all my strength.  I needed the full six months to heal properly, before being able to return to work.

Enough with the sick stuff.  Are you reading this and old enough to remember the events of September 11, 2001?  Have your forgotten all of the changes that were immediately implemented, leaving us no choice to accept the way things were, many of which still exist today, some methods even stronger?

Do you think only bad things in our lives can make us appreciate perspective?  Nope.  I know it is a bad example, but how many have gone on a two week cruise?  Spring Break?  Family vacations?  The truth is, we have no problem with a “social distancing” when we are able to make that decision ourselves.  Because that is a good thing.  But you know what else is a good thing?  Keeping your health.

President Trump has made it very clear today.  We need to do this, limit our social activity for fifteen days.  It is not like we cannot do it, because we can.  But just as I lost control of my life to fight cancer, and the many late health issues have come up, of the events of September 11, 2001, this situation is no different.  I cannot control the outcome of the spread.  But I can deal with how it affects my personal life, which as a collective, will help everyone.

I have gone through this many times.  So can you.

Did You Just Call Me “Weak”?

One of my favorite movies, is “An Officer And A Gentleman,” starring Richard Gere and Louis Gossett, Jr.  A scene early in the movie has a recruit (Gere) in line with other recruits.  The drill sergeant (yes, I spelled that correctly), played by Gossett, Jr., proceeds down the line of the recruits, stops at Gere and asks where he is from.  Gere responds, “Texas.”  Gossett, Jr. returns, “only two things come out of Texas, steers and queers.  I don’t see no horns on you, so you must be queer.”

So, this is a weird way for me to start a post.  But I do so as an analogy.  The other day, I responded to another’s post about the current Corona virus pandemic.  The individual wrote, “80% of the people won’t even be affected by this, only the old and the weak.”  You can see why I began the way that I did.  Clearly Gere did not have horns on him, but that also did not give the drill instructor the right to insinuate and insult Gere’s character with a homophobic slur.  Later in the movie, Gere would most certainly prove Gossett, Jr. wrong.

I am 54 years of age.  By any definition, that in no way makes me old.  So, as many times as I have had to defend myself during this virus crisis, I am definitely considered high risk.  But that is not what the ignoramus wrote.  He said, “old or weak.”  And if I am not old, then I must be “weak.”  I pride myself in not letting comments made about me, bother me.  And as I mentioned in previous posts, I have issues, survivor guilt, in accepting my longevity.

But this snarky comment, “old or weak” lit a fire under my ass that I have never felt before.  I know what I have gone through over the past 30 years was no easy task.  I have never looked for an “attaboy” or a pat on the back for what I have been through.  I most certainly do not brag or complain.  This moment was different, my tongue, or in this case, my fingers, would not hold back.

My reply:

“Weak?  Seriously?  You are calling me weak?  Because I’m certainly not old.  I know you are clearly inconvenienced along with the 80% you made reference to.  But you do not get to call me weak.  I have dealt with cancer.  I was exposed to several toxic chemicals as part of my chemotherapy.  I was exposed to four times the lifetime maximum of ionized radiation.  I have had operations on the two main arteries to my heart because of my treatments.  I have permanent damage to my left lung from my treatments.  I was rolled out of my house at 4am on a gurney into an ambulance, dying from septic pneumonia.  Nine months later, I had another episode of that pneumonia.  I have no spleen (thanks to my cancer) which makes me more susceptible to illnesses.  There is more, but you get the gist.  I have a much higher risk of contracting Corona virus, or perhaps another term that might be used, more vulnerable.  But “weak?”  This is not the animal kingdom and survival of the fittest.  If I succumbed to the virus, to you, I would be no different than the 20% of the weakest part of the herd.  FUCK YOU!”

Okay.  He definitely struck a nerve with me.  Perhaps I was being a bit sensitive, or was I?  Clearly he was not a writer, or he would have thought more carefully about the words he was using.  Or perhaps his thinking was that simple as “survival of the fittest.”

For being as high risk as I am, and honestly, I can only claim that for twelve years of my thirty, because it was not until my first heart surgery in 2008, that I learned that I had all these factors determining my risks.

After the berating I gave, I decided on a second reply, not simply “editing” my previous reply.

“I have gone through annual virus outbreaks such as SARS, bird flu, swine flu, Zika, MERS, and of course, the annual flu outbreaks.  I worked with biological hazards as part of my employment, much to the displeasure of my doctors who felt I should not expose myself to those risks.  And yet, after all this, to this date, I have not developed anything, in spite of my being high risk, vulnerable.  Why is that?  Because I know my risks.  I know the procedures and the things I must do to minimize any chance of exposure.  And guess what?  That does not involve anyone else, other than myself.  That’s right, I don’t put that responsibility on anyone else, other than myself.  Dealing with this Corona virus, my attitude is no different.  But even my daughters understand this simple concept.  It is those around me that I have no control over, that can affect my risk.  I am talking about vectors.  You probably have no idea what I am referring to, so I will simplify it for you.  A vector is a carrier.  And that, is what 80% of you have the potential of being to the 20%.  You will either have slight flu symptoms, or just carry the virus, and interact with someone whose body cannot fight off the virus.”

That’s right.  No matter the many precautions that I take, my main threat is going to be the “strong” people, who carry the virus.  I have made my most difficult decisions to reduce my exposure to healthier people.  The most painful was to cancel travel plans to see my daughters.  I was to visit them for a birthday, but they live in an area that is being dealt with very strictly to control and contain the outbreak in their area.  For me to travel there would be like walking into a hail of gunfire and expecting not to get hit by even one bullet.  But I have also had to cancel their trip to visit me in a few weeks, for fear of carrying the virus.

You do not get to refer to me as “weak.”

I am using my head during this crisis.  I am not panicking and running out buying out all kinds of supplies.  I am not sharing any false information such as conspiracy theories of origin or cure.  I am educated and informed.  And I am hoping the end result for me personally, is that my experience will end just as all of the other viruses I have gone through.

I am a high risk for the Corona virus because I have cardiac issues, pulmonary issues, diabetic, and have no spleen.  I am vulnerable if you must insist on separating who should be concerned about Covid19, and who is just being flat out inconvenienced, do not call us “weak.”  Thinning out a “herd” is not an acceptable concept for humans just because you are being inconvenienced.


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